With toilet paper in short supply in recent weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Binghamton University supply chain expert predicts the shelves will be amply stocked soon.
“It’s almost a given. There will be too much home-use toilet paper in the marketplace soon,” says Donald Sheldon, lecturer of supply chain management in Binghamton University’s School of Management.
Stories of consumers unable to purchase toilet paper flooded the news and social media in March as Americans began to anticipate coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders. Now, nearly two months later, it is still difficult to find toilet paper in many stores.
“Consumers, scared of being stuck in their homes for a long time without essentials, strategically bought a buffer stock of toilet paper for the long haul. This caused the first clearing of the store shelves,” he says.
As millions of Americans began transitioning to working from home, Sheldon says this put an additional burden on the toilet paper market.
“People are using more toilet paper at their homes than ever before. Prior to the shelter-in-place orders, people were using toilet paper at their office or in restaurants and stores more frequently,” he says.
Sheldon says the market was unable to absorb this initial shock because home-grade toilet paper is made from different material than commercial-grade toilet paper commonly used in offices and public places.
“Home-grade toilet paper is less efficient to make than commercial-grade toilet paper, and they are made from different raw materials,” says Sheldon. “Commercial-grade toilet paper generally found in businesses and public restrooms is typically cheaper, and made of one-ply recycled fiber. Home-grade toilet paper is typically made of two-ply virgin fiber and is generally softer.”
Sheldon says companies have been working around the clock to keep up with demand for home-grade toilet paper. As this supply continues to increase, Sheldon says the demand will gradually decrease, causing a surplus of toilet paper in the market.
“As stay-at-home orders are loosened, demand for an excess supply of home-use toilet paper will decrease. People will start going back to their offices, and using less toilet paper in their homes. They’ll also feel safer going to the store for supplies as needed, instead of buying hoarding amounts every time they go,” he says.
Sheldon warns that companies should start preparing for this transition in order to avoid a similar problem with commercial-grade toilet paper.
“The anticipated sharp dip in home-grade demand will happen as people begin to go back to work and hoarding stops. Demand for commercial-grade toilet paper will then jump up as offices and businesses need to stock their restrooms again,” says Sheldon. “This is a time when retailers and suppliers at each level in the toilet paper supply chain need to be sharing plans and forecasts.”
With an expected surplus of home-grade toilet paper in the market, Sheldon predicts this toilet paper to be sold at a discount to get levels back to normal.
“The likely short-term fix will be to discount home-use toilet paper in commercial sales, which could move inventories back to equilibrium,” he says.
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